Did we finally reach gender equality in Thirty Under 30?

Thirty bright, twenty somethings, driving change, challenging the norms, and speaking up. Added to this, another thirty who ‘just missed out’ and about 110 more nominated on top, and the Jewish News’ Thirty Under Thirty has given us optimism for the future of our community.

Whilst aware that interpreting such findings through a binary gender lens is dated (and increasingly irrelevant to young people themselves), it is nonetheless, a responsibility to consider what these results tell us about the changing role of women, if anything.

The panel, led by Andrew Gilbert, did a sterling job on gender with almost exactly half of the top sixty being women. Compared to the JC Power 100 this might suggest that our young people are challenging the status quo and that power in twenty or thirty years time will be evenly gender matched.

See the Jewish News Thirty Under 30  lists here:

However, this is probably some way off the truth. The rather less balanced selection panel of 10 men and 6 women clearly worked very hard to ensure that every section of the community was represented. Left vs Right, orthodox vs progressive, London vs regions, political vs cultural, as well as men vs women. All clearly had to be represented on the list and whilst there will inevitably be complaints, I think they did a good job.

However, when we drill down a bit further, we find less equality. Of the dozens of young people nominated, actually three fifths were men. For every five nominations, only two were women. The self-selected nominators, presumably the movers and shakers in our community, considered substantially fewer women worthy of nomination than of men.

Concurrently, the Women in Jewish Leadership project (supported by the JLC and then the Board of Deputies) has now concluded having run for nearly six years and implemented all of the recommendations from the 2012 Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership. One of these was the Gender Equality Plan, a programme for organisations to systematically consider whether their internal processes truly enable women (and indeed other minority groups) to progress. Whilst all six organisations who took part credited the GEP with driving significant change, very few others were willing to take part despite most of the costs being absorbed by highly trained volunteers. It seems that this issue simply isn’t yet high enough on the communal agenda despite a plethora of evidence showing how much organisations benefit from a diverse leadership.

Over time, there has, of course, been change and some of it substantial. The proportion of women trustees of communal organisations, seems to be around 33%, up from 27% and women can now chair United Synagogue boards, something which was prohibited when we started the commission, 6 short years ago. Andrew mentions the value of titles and of recognition, and to its credit, 30 Under 30 does recognise our women and I hope that this will give them more confidence to step up, and more people the courage to support them.

But we have a long way to go and the rate of change is slow. A recent analysis showed that whilst the National Union of Students over the past 50 years have had one woman president for every 3 men, the UJS has managed only one in eight. Our JLC council has 33 men and 3 women (two of whom were co-opted by the male leadership), the Board of Deputies has 32% women and the honorary officers are still more men than women.

I applaud the 30 Under 30 and look forward to seeing them, and hundreds of other able, innovative and dynamic young people in our community go on to thrive and take leadership roles both inside and just as crucially, outside our community. I congratulate the judges on a brilliant piece of balancing and negotiating. To achieve parity in the final 60, the women nominees might have been consistently stronger candidates than the men. Alternatively, the panel took the brave decision that it was not acceptable to disregard the women, even if our community at large failed to see their worth through disproportionately nominating men.

So whilst the women came through, let’s not kid ourselves that this shows that the problem is sorted. We have a long way to go and only with determination and planning, rather than leaving this to chance, will our community benefit from the talents of all our young people, regardless of gender.

About the Author
Laura Marks is the founder and chair of Mitzvah Day, an international charity which works to alleviate poverty, to support the environment and to bring a little kindness all through active, hands on projects on Mitzvah Day. At the heart of Mitzvah Day is a belief that if we work side by side with our neighbours, we will build stronger, more resilient local communities. Taking the same thinking forward, Laura launched and co-chairs, Nisa-Nashim, a new national Jewish/Muslim women’s network. She is the newly appointed chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust which runs a national event and also thousands of local events, bringing people together to commemorate victims of the Holocaust and also, of other genocides. Laura lives in London, has three almost grown up children and husband, TV producer Dan Patterson.
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